Q. Discuss the emergence and evolution of Buddhist art in India.
Buddhist art is the artistic practice(s) that are influenced by Buddhism.
It includes art which depicts Buddhas, bodhisattvas, notable Buddhist figures, both historical and mythical; narrative scenes from the lives of all of these; mandalas; as well as physical objects such as vajras, bells, stupas as well as Buddhist temple architecture.
It originated in the Indian subcontinent, and thereafter evolved by contact with other cultures as it spread throughout Asia and the world.
When Buddha died, circa 483 BCE, his body was cremated and divided into several relic caskets known as stupas. The relic of Buddha and other holy figures were the first known examples of Buddhist art.
These sacred relics are divided into three categories: Saririka – the physical relics of Buddha; Uddesika – the religious symbols that include the image of Buddha, stupas, Dharmacakra (Wheel of the Dharma); Paribhogika – the articles used by the Buddha.
These early examples belong to the category of the Pre-iconic phase of Buddhist art that lasted from the 5th to the 1st century B.C. in this period, Buddha was represented through the aniconic symbols such as the Bodhi tree, an empty throne, the horse with no rider, Buddha’s footprints, and the Wheel of Dharma.
During the 2nd and the 1st century BCE, sculptures became more explicit and began depicting scenes from Buddha’s life, but still represented through symbolism, rather than in his human form.
In the 1st century B.C.E. the artists from India built stone gateways and railings to the stupas and covered them with sculptures that depicted the events from the life of the Buddha, as well as his previous 550 lives.
Later, in the 1st century C.E., artists started to depict Buddha in his human form, and one of the first examples of this was found in the North-West India in the area known as Gandhara.
The Gandhara artists combined the Buddhist symbolism with the elements from the Hellenistic world and created a unique style. They created young Buddhas with curly hair that resembled the Roman statues of Apollo
By the 2nd century, the philosophers of the Mahayana found that the artworks could serve as a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, and not just as the figure of worship.
The first images of Buddha appeared during the Kushan Dynasty and the time of King Kanishka and can be found at two locations, Mathura, and Gandhara.
Mathura artworks sprouted out of the Indian yogic traditions and were primarily done in red sandstone.
Buddhist art then flourished in the Gupta period, from the 4th to the 6th century C.E.
The Gupta period is significant for its creations of an “ideal image” of the Buddha, achieved through the combination of his traits from the region of Gandhara and the sensual form of Mathuran artists.
These Gupta Buddhas later became the model for the generations of artists who followed, in postGupta and Pala India, in Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia.
The Buddhist art comprises important national heritage and has contributed greatly to national symbols such as Ashok Chakra on the National Flag and Lion Capital of Ashok at Sarnath being the National Emblem.